Robert Heriot Barclay page 2

In late 1807 Barclay joined the Diana, a 38-gun frigate cruising the Bay of Biscay on blockade duty. During April 1808 the Diana encountered a small French convoy attempting to move supplies from Nantes to Rochefort. When pursued the French sought shelter and safety in Noirmoutier Roads, and Barclay was ordered to assemble a detachment of smallboats to cut out the enemy. Cutting out expeditions were sought after opportunities which could lead to notoriety and promotion for an ambitious young officer, but during this deadly foray Barclay was struck by a swivel gun shot, a critical wound which cost him his left arm.

Normally such a debilitating injury would result in the invalid being beached on half-pay, but with the nation gripped by global warfare every trained and experienced officer was needed. After a brief visit to his home in December 1809, Barclay was shipped to the North American Station, headquartered at Halifax, Lower Canada. Over the next few years he served as first lieutenant on the Frigates Aeolus and Iphigenia, until in March 1813 he was promoted to commander and dispatched to Lake Ontario, where Barclay would serve as temporary commodore until a more experienced and senior officer could be appointed.

Barclay's tenure superintending Lake Ontario affairs was short-lived. In the late spring of 1813 Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo arrived to assume command of Royal Naval forces on the Great Lakes, and Barclay was relegated to command of the small squadron on Lake Erie. Barclay's assignment to the southernmost lake was not a voluntary one. He was ordered to Lake Erie only after another officer, Captain William Mulcaster, declined the command. Mulcaster cited as his reasons the deplorable conditions of the Lake Erie flotilla, and the fact that there would be little opportunity to gain glory on Lake Erie.

Arriving at the Amherstburg Navy Yard on June 3, 1813, Barclay marshalled his forces and energetically patrolled the eastern end of the lake until his adversary's flotilla forced Barclay to retire to his Amherstburg base. Nearing completion at the navy yard was the Detroit, a 19-gun sloop-of-war. The Detroit would become Barclay's flagship, and with her additional strength the Royal Navy commander could contest Oliver Hazard Perry for control of Lake Erie, even though, in broadside power, the Scotsman's flotilla was still far short of parity with the American fleet. page 1 page 3

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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